How yoga empowers you

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”– Nora Ephron

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The late writer Nora Ephron said this: “Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” When I happened upon that quote years ago, I instantly connected to it. I was at the confluence of several life-altering events, and I was feeling hurt and injured by circumstances that were not in my control. I had been victimized.

Around that same time, I was beginning my yoga journey.

Ephron’s quote resonated because it, like yoga, gave me a chance to see that victimhood is often a choice—a way we’re choosing to frame our personal narrative. Her quote reminded me that I could choose to be the master of my life, despite what was thrown my way. Her quote became a personal intention. I wrote it in my journal and often recited it to myself in meditation or at the start of my yoga practice. It was my mantra.

Victimization is very real. In our society, we’re having an important discussion right now about the myriad of ways white culture victimizes minorities. Women have talked for 100+ years about the ways that patriarchy oppresses. LGBT citizens can now legally wed in the United States, but they still aren’t protected by equal anti-discrimination laws in every state. Not all oppression is equal, and I’m not suggesting we make light of systematic, cultural oppression. Being victimized is a great equalizer, though: it isn’t a unique circumstance. Everyone is a victim at some point: a victim of interpersonal cruelty, infidelity, abuse, neglect, dishonesty, or poverty. It’s not a pleasant, comfortable, or safe role. But it also doesn’t have to be a defining one.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim,” because despite circumstances, despite limited power over much of your life, despite your family, wealth, health, or background, the perspective you choose becomes your narrative. Your perspective, your personal choice, determines if you’re going to be the victim or hero of your life story. You get to choose.

Yoga helps us see this choice, too.

In The Yoga Sutras, Patanjali defines yoga as the ability to control the mind. In Sutra 1.2, we’re told yogas chitta vritti nirodha: yoga is the quieting of the fluctuations of the mind. The Sutras continue, and a path (and potential obstacles) are explained. But what’s clear immediately is this:

Your meandering, anxious mind causes suffering.

There is a way to quiet your mind and find peace.

The steady and dedicated practice of yoga is that way.

You can choose to be a victim of the internal pushing and pulling or you can choose to forge another path. The root of your suffering is within you. The path to contentment and peace is within you, too. It’s you, yoga says. It’s all you. Whether you suffer or you find peace, the choice is yours. Whatever happens outside your mind, you can cultivate control of your mind and your perspective. What could be more empowering ?

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.”

You get to choose.

 

 

 

 

The push and pull of attachment and aversion

Raga and dvesha are at the heart of your suffering.

In yoga, the self-derived causes of suffering are called kleshas. There are five of them, but the two I’ve been thinking a lot about lately are raga and dvesha: attachment and aversion.

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Raga

Raga—attachment—means, essentially, attachment to pleasant things. There’s nothing wrong with enjoying life and all the sweet parts of it. Raga occurs, though, when you suffer because you want pleasant things. At the heart of raga is unmet desire: raga occurs when you experience suffering because you can’t have what you want. The enjoyment of good things is fine; the attachment to good things is problematic.

When I think about raga, I recognize a particular (routine) moment in my life: Sunday night. Without fail, on Sunday night I feel down, mournful, cranky. On Monday, the week begins again, which means less time with my family and more time doing work. Even though I enjoy my job, I’d still rather be experiencing leisure. I’m attached to the pleasant experience of the weekend. I suffer because I can’t have more of what I desire: the sweetness and ease of lazy, connected family time.

Dvesha

Dvesha—aversion—is the inverse. You probably have things, experiences, and people that you find unpleasant. Like any normal person, you generally try to avoid these things, of course. You probably don’t enjoy having to come face-to-face with unpleasantness. But because life inevitably makes you confront sources of displeasure, you suffer. You experience suffering because you are averse to these particular aspects of life.

When I think about dvesha, I think of the tasks that have remained forever at the bottom of my to-do list. I keep avoiding them; I keep putting them off. I find more enjoyable tasks to complete whenever I’m doing work. But these unpleasant things really need to be done; these things I don’t want to deal with must eventually be dealt with. I suffer because I have created an aversion to these necessary, normal tasks. The problem is with me and my attitude.

So, what’s to be done?

At the heart of most change is this: awareness. Recognizing the cycle you’re in begins to change the cycle. That’s the miracle of mindfulness. You get to slow down and see what’s really pulling and pushing you in various directions.

In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali tells us that the way out of the kleshas is through meditation. Sitting in stillness, choosing to let go of the thoughts that come into your mind isn’t easy. But practicing meditation is just that: a practice. It takes time to get comfortable with sitting in quiet, but the effects continue long after you leave your seat. Whether you choose a formal meditation practice or you just take some time to sit quietly, observe and breathe, this little bit of space will allow you to get more perspective on the pushing and pulling of your mind. The next time you experience suffering connected to the idea of “I want” or “I don’t want,” you might find a little buffer: that’s your chance to choose a different path than the habits of raga and dvesha. It’s your choice to choose not to suffer.